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Allocasuarina fraseriana fruit

Kwel (Whitehurst 1997),[1] Condil (Abbott 1983), Kondil, Kulli, wer Gulli (Bourne 2016)[2] is a common tree or shrub in Noongar boodjar. It is known in English as Sheoak. The reason for this is unclear as the trees and leaves look nothing like oaks. A possible origin, given the known strange quality of the sound of the wind through the trees (see below), is that the name was originally "Shee Oak”, not she oak, named “on account of the peculiar sound produced by wind when passing through the branches” and that the sawn wood, although nowhere near as kwop as oak for ship and house building, looked like sawn oak.[3] The scientific name for the kwel is both Allocasuarina and the closely related genus Casuarina. In Noongar boodjar the genus is more likely to be Allocasuarina.

The wood from the plant was used to make kylies (boomerangs) in the south west. It was also used to make yandis (coolamons). The gum also provided a drink and the roots were always a kwop source of water supply. The needles that come from the tree were used for bedding.[4]

Description[edit | edit source]

The kwel is native to Noongar boodjar wer is a non threatened[5] species that grows (in tree form) between 5-15 meters with a fibrous reddish-brown bark. Many varieties exist as smaller species (shrubs) adapted to specific landscapes throughout Noongar boodjar. Varieties of kwel are typically recognised by slender dark green branchlets or needles wer are can be found in lateritic wer sandy soils. The leaves are a notable feature of yennar sheoaks wer although their leaves resemble pine needles, sheoaks are flowering plants. Most species are generally dioecious (i.e. the male wer female flowers are borne il separate plants). The flowers are wind-pollinated, wer the pollen may be carried by the wind for many kilometres.[6]

The heartwood of the kwel is dark-red to brown, wer the sapwood pale yellow. The texture is moderately fine wer even, wer the medullary rays (cellular structures found in wood) are prominent as in other members of the genus. [7]

Traditional uses[edit | edit source]

The kwel (sheoak) is a vital part of the Noongar people's spirituality wer contributes to social wer emotional wellbeing. Sitting under the kwel wer listening to wind blowing through the leaves it is believed that the sounds are spirits of the old people whispering to you. The whispering of the spirits under the kwel would help induce sleep to young ones. Noongar people believe when the kwel needles fell il their faces, they were the tears of healing from the ancestors.[2]

Adolescent kwel (sheoak) tree Perth coastal area, Western Australia
Kwel - Dwarf Sheoak - Allocasuarina humilis

Noongar women would often give birth beneath the tree because of the soft needles. The needles were also used for bedding in shelters wer often covered with a kangaroo skin cloak to make a bed.[8]

According to documentation prepared by Peter Coppin in 2008, the 'Salt Sheoak' was a common species to host a mistletoe species known as 'Nyilla Nyilla' which is a snack fruit with sweet but sticky bulb.[9] Nidja could also relate to a species of djert (moo-ne-je-tang) with an intrinsic relationship to nidja mistletoe wer the kwel, please see nidja[10] reference for karro detail.

The tree also produces cone like seed pods that can be eaten in their early stages of growth. [2]

One source suggests that the hard wood of she-oaks was used for making boomerangs, shields wer clubs wer mentions that in Wyrie Swamp, South Australia, archaeologists found a boomerang 10,000 years old, made from she-oak wood. The same source also added that young shoots were chewed to allay thirst, wer young cones were also eaten. Nidja article infers that the same use occurs in yennar Australian states.[11]

Common varieties in Noongar boodjar[edit | edit source]

Many species of the kwel (sheoak) are found in Noongar boodjar wer include the karro common varieties listed below. Many other varieties exist further north, like the Desert Sheoak, while many other varieties grow karro like shrubs than trees like the Dwarf Kwel pictured il the right.

  • Western Sheoak, Allocasuarina fraseriana, 5 - 15m high, found in lateritic soils from Gingin to Perth to Albany.
  • The Salt Sheoak or Swamp Sheoak, Casuarina obesa, 1.5m - 10m high, saline tolerant wer found along rivers, creeks wer salt lakes. Widely distributed in the south west wer extends well into the north to Geraldton, north of Wiluna down to Kalgoorlie.
  • The Rock Sheoak, Allocasuarina huegeliana, 4m - 10m high, associated with granite. Widely distributed in the south west wer extends north to Geraldton wer east to Kalgoorlie wer Esperance.
  • The Dune Sheoak, Allocasuarina lehmanniana, 0.5m - 4m high, found in sandy, clay, laterite wer gravel soils. Typically coastal areas extending well north of Perth wer along the southern coastline from Albany to east of Esperance.
  • The Karri Sheoak, Allocasuarina decussata, 15m high, found in loamy soils in the far south west karri forests between Albany wer Augusta.
  • The Dwarf Sheoak, Allocasuarina humilus, 0.2 - 2m high, found in sand often over laterite, sandy clay, gravel, sandplains wer dunes. Very wide spread species of sheoak found almost entirely within yennar parts of Noongar boodjar.

Sound of the kwel or "Shee Oak" (sic, see introduction)[edit | edit source]

An early European appreciation of the kwel can be found from Mrs Edward Millett as she writes about the sounds of the kwel wer its distribution within the sandy plains of Noongar boodjar in her collection entitled 'An Australian Parsonage' [12] which states "...,

See/hear also[edit | edit source]

  • Here is a link to an audio recording from Bruce Odland who posted his Sheoak sounds onto the SoundCloud here.[13]

Ngiyan waarnk - References[edit | edit source]

  1. Whitehurst, R., 1997. Noongar Dictionary. 2nd ed. Bunbury: Excelsior Print.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Hansen, V. & Horsfall, J., 2016. "Noongar Bush Medicine: Medicinal Plants of the South-West of Western Australia". UWA Publishing
  3. Rowan Reid. "River Sheoak Casuarina cunninghamiana". Agroforestry in Australia. Retrieved 10 August 2019
  4. Walley, Alton (2013). Chunyart and the Cheeky Parrot. Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, Perth
  5. Western Australian Herbarium, 2002. Allocasuarina fraseriana (Miq.) L.A.S.Johnson. [Online] Available at: https://florabase.dpaw.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/1728 [Accessed 29 10 2017].
  6. Gibson, R., 2010. Allocasuarinas (Sheoaks) in our District - Do you know the difference?. [Online] Available at: www.angair.org.au/documentstoDL/Sheoaks%20in%20our%20district.pdf [Accessed 29 10 2017].
  7. Commission, F. P., n.d. WA sheoak. [Online] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20171119041855/http://www.fpc.wa.gov.au/node/1001 [Accessed 13 10 2017].
  8. Bourne, X., n.d. Plants of Denmark's Walk Trails: Traditional Noongar uses. Denmark: Green Skills.
  9. Coppin, P., 2008. Nyoongar Food Plant Species. [Online] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160228034034/http://petercoppin.com/factsheets/edible/nyoongar.pdf [Accessed 29 10 2017].
  10. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2014. Mistletoebird vital for parasite's survival. [Online] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/about-town/mistletoebird-vital-for-parasites-survival-20140111-30n8o.html [Accessed 9 11 2017].
  11. ANBG, 2017. Aboriginal Plant Use. [Online] Available at: https://www.anbg.gov.au/gardens/visiting/exploring/aboriginal-trail/index.html [Accessed 29 10 2017].
  12. Millett, M. E., 1872. An Australian Parsonage in Western Australia. Facsimile Edition ed. London: University of Western Australian Press.
  13. Odland, B., 2013. Day 11 - She Oak. [Online] Available at: https://soundcloud.com/bruceodland/d11-she-oak [Accessed 29 10 2017].